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WILLIAMSON v. GTE PRODS. CORP.

March 4, 1997

CARL T. WILLIAMSON, Plaintiff
v.
GTE PRODUCTS CORP., et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCCLURE

 March 4, 1997

 BACKGROUND :

 On December 19, 1994, plaintiff Carl T. Williamson initiated this action with the filing of a complaint pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq. (ERISA). Williamson alleges that he was induced through misrepresentations to retire early from his employment with defendant GTE Products Corp., which prevented his participation in a voluntary severance program offered by defendant Osram Sylvania, Inc., after it acquired Williamson's former employer. An amended complaint, the effect of which was to substitute all of the named defendants save Osram, was filed on April 8, 1996.

 Before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment.

 DISCUSSION :

 I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

 Summary judgment is appropriate if the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) (emphasis added).

 
...The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be 'no genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. The moving party is 'entitled to judgment as a matter of law' because the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof.

 Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-324, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986).

 The moving party bears the initial responsibility of stating the basis for its motions and identifying those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. He or she can discharge that burden by "showing ... that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex at 323, 325.

 Issues of fact are genuine "only if a reasonable jury, considering the evidence presented, could find for the non-moving party." Childers v. Joseph, 842 F.2d 689, 694 (3d Cir. 1988) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986)). Material facts are those which will affect the outcome of the trial under governing law. Anderson at 248. In determining whether an issue of material fact exists, the court must consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. White v. Westinghouse Electric Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988).

 II. STATEMENT OF FACTS

 1. Williamson was employed by GTE Products Corp. or a predecessor from June, 1970, until his retirement on December 30, 1992.

 2. Williamson was the Purchasing Manager for the Chemical and Metallurgical Division of GTE's Precision Materials Group.

 3. Williamson was employed at the Towanda, Pennsylvania, plant.

 4. Williamson's date of birth is November 4, 1928, meaning that he retired at age 64.

 5. Williamson was responsible for division purchases of bulk gases, molybdenum, natural gas, propane, zirconium, and tantalum, among other duties.

 6. Williamson has a bachelor's degree in commerce and finance.

 7. Williamson handled approximately $ 40 million in annual raw material and fuel purchases and had seven employees reporting to him.

 8. GTE Service Corp. was a service corporation responsible for the administration of various employee benefit and compensation programs for the GTE Corp. affiliates, including GTE Products Corp.

 9. Williamson was a participant in, and is a retiree under, a defined benefit employee pension plan named the GTE Products Corporation Plan for Employees' Pensions.

 10. The designated Plan Administrator of the Pension Plan was the GTE Service Corporation Employee Benefits Committee.

 11. GTE Electrical Products Group and GTE Precision Materials Group are unincorporated operating divisions, neither of which is a legal entity having capacity to sue or be sued.

 12. On January 29, 1993, the stock of GTE Products Corp. was purchased by a U.S. subsidiary of a German corporation, Osram Gmbh (which in turn is a subsidiary of Siemans, A.G.), as part of an acquisition of GTE's North American lighting business.

 13. The name of the acquired corporation was changed as of January 29, 1993, to Osram Sylvania, Inc., one of the defendants.

 14. Although the acquisition and name change were formalized on January 29, 1993, these events were part of a longer process which led up to the acquisition.

 15. On August 6, 1992, GTE, Siemans and Osram entered an agreement for the sale.

 16. The agreement became known to GTE's employees, and a memorandum confirming the sale was circulated on September 14, 1992.

 17. On September 28, 1992, Williamson notified GTE that he intended to retire effective December 30, 1992.

 18. Williamson was told that he had the right to rescind his retirement election if he so chose.

 19. Williamson's stated reasons for retiring were his age, uncertainty about how the sale would affect him, and an announced change in the cost of retiree medical benefits for employees who retired after December 30, 1992.

 20. In an employee announcement dated October 30, 1992, the GTE employees, including Williamson, were informed that (i) the tentative closing date for the Osram sale was December 14, 1992; (ii) the sales agreement with Osram included provisions which would protect retiree pension and other post-retirement benefits earned before the sale for employees like Williamson, who had the requisite age and service, even if they retired after the sale; (iii) the sales agreement with Osram included provisions which would ensure that employees who were involuntarily terminated within a year after the sale would receive at least as much in severance benefits as they would have under the GTE severance plan; and (iv) any questions about retirement or the impact of the sale on retirement decisions should be directed to the Retirement Programs Office. *fn1"

 22. On November 23, 1992, the Retirement Programs Office announced that employees who notified the Company of their retirement would not be permitted to rescind that decision. *fn2"

 23. The November 23, 1992, announcement by the Retirement Programs Office contradicted assurances made by Van Laderer, Director of Operating Services at the Towanda facility, and Peter Broderick, Director of Human Resources at the Towanda facility, that Williamson would have the unconditional right to rescind his retirement decision.

 24. After his initial announcement of his intent to retire effective December 30, 1992, Williamson confirmed this decision in forms signed and completed by him on November 6, 1992, November 19, 1992, and November 24, 1992. In each instance, however, Williamson continued to believe that he had the right to rescind his decision to retire.

 25. On November 25, 1992, Williamson talked to Gary Reiter, an employee in the Human Resources Department, and Broderick (Reiter's manager) about rescinding his decision to retire, and was informed that the decision could not be ...


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